California is suffering through one of its worst droughts in recent history.
And while it might not be a long drought for some schools, 10 years without a Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title has Davis High thirsty for a drink at the championship trough.
After beating Elk Grove in the SJS North finals, the Blue Devils now have the chance to win their first section crown since 2004, with only St. Mary’s standing in their way. DHS will face the Rams in a best-of-three series at Stockton’s Klein Family Stadium beginning Friday at 4 p.m.
Game 2 is Saturday at noon with a rubber match, if necessary, scheduled for later that day.
“They’re good,” Devil skipper Dan Ariola said of five-time defending SJS South champion St. Mary’s. “They’ve got a great program, they get in this thing every year. They’ve represented the South a bunch of years in a row.
“We scrimmage them every season,” Ariola added. “We played them this year 14, 16 innings — I can’t remember — and they’re solid.”
The Rams, who fell to Elk Grove in the 2013 section finals, are similar to the Blue Devils this season as both teams rely on pitching and defense, then find a way to get runs.
St. Mary’s boasts a stingy team ERA of 1.65, paced by ace Alex Patterson, who has a 0.88 ERA and eight wins. He likely will throw on Friday.
But DHS can counter with a superstar of its own in UCLA-bound Matt Trask. The senior threw six innings of no-hit ball in his most recent playoff start — a win over Rocklin — and has a 5-1 record with a 1.37 ERA. Another Devil senior, Brett Bloomfield, will start Game 2 and junior Kris Prince, the hero of last week’s North title-clinching contest, is waiting in the wings.
“What (Kris) gives us is a good feeling that we have a quality Game 3 starter,” Ariola said.
Davis also comes in with an offense that has been red-hot for the past few weeks, beating elite pitchers like Mitch Hart of Granite Bay and Rocklin’s Logan Webb in postseason.
The top three hitters in the Blue Devil lineup — John Ariola, Bloomfield and Ryan Kreidler — have hit a combined 17-35 in the past four games, setting up middle-of-the order batters Trask, Trey Golston and Nate Curtis for numerous RBI opportunities.
And while DHS has had more than its share of talented teams the past 15 years — the Devils also won the 2000 section crown and have three players in pro baseball right now — Dan Ariola says it’s the ability to “own the moment” that makes this group special.
“I’ve had a lot of teams who have come close,” Ariola explained. “You just have to have a lot of things go your way. You have to have good players, you have to get a few breaks here and there. I just have a lot of guys that can handle the environment, that can handle the pressure.”
One of the reasons the 2014 Devils seem so comfortable handling pressure is a confidence in each other that has been built through years of playing together.
Dan Ariola has watched most of his seniors — his son John, Golston, Bloomfield, Trask, Hudson Forrester and Josh Guerrero — grow since their days roaming the Davis Little League Complex.
“I’ve seen them play since they were kids so that makes it cool. But anytime you win it’s special,” Ariola said. “Anytime you can get this far; every team works hard and that’s our goal to get to sections and it’s hard to get there. It’s really rewarding to see these guys enjoy their success.”
So, is the longtime coach even more excited for this week’s series because he gets to share it with his son?
“I feel great for John, but it’s not about me it’s not about John,” Ariola said. “It’s about the team, all of the team.”